Types Of Espresso
There are many models of espresso and cappuccino machines available
for use in the home setting and in the commercial environment. When
shopping for an espresso and cappuccino machine, it can become very
confusing to choose among these many different makes and models
that may or may not suit your needs and lifestyle. To narrow your
search for the perfect espresso and cappuccino machine, the first
essential step is to learn the five basic categories that almost
all espresso and cappuccino machines fall into.
By learning these categories, you will be able to understand the
variances and nuances between "ease of use" and "user
control". With this understanding, you should be better prepared
to select the appropriate espresso and cappuccino machine that will
meet your needs. If you still need further clarification, 1st-Line
Equipment, LLC Is 110% committed to answering your questions with
regard to your purchase of an espresso and cappuccino machine for
home or commercial use.
Steam Powered Espresso Machines
Steam powered espresso machines were the first machines
invented to extract espresso with steam pressure and boiling water.
these machines extracted espresso by utilizing the steam pressure
at 1.5 Bar in the boiler to force the water through the coffee grinds.
The total extraction time was about 1 minute. These machines in
the early 1900's produced a sour, burnt taste created by the steam
that was mixed in with the boiling water. The interesting thing
is that most NON-pump machines sold today for under $150.00 utilize
this old world technology.
Manual Lever Espresso Machines
(Spring or Non-Spring Lever Operated)
Circa World War II, the piston was introduced whereby the water
was filtered through the coffee grinds with the aid of a manually
operated piston and without the addition of steam in the water.
In other words, the boiling water and steam were removed from the
extraction process. The sour, burnt-tasting espresso was re-invented
into a flavorful cup with the removal of steam pressure.
These manual espresso machines are categorized by the inclusion
of a manually operated lever and the lack of an electric pump. Pre-empted
by steam powered stovetop espresso makers, manual espresso machines
were the first devices to produce espresso as we know it today!
There are two (2) types of Manual Lever Espresso Machines: Non-spring
operated and spring operated. With the non-spring operated type
espresso machine, the operator/barista lifts the lever from the
down position to the up position to allow water into the brewhead
and then firmly, with consistent pressure, forces the lever in a
downward motion to make espresso. The non-spring operated manual
machines are recommended for seasoned espresso enthusiasts and those
that can meet the challenges in finding the appropriate amount of
manual, consistent pressure to extract an espresso. In 1961, the
commercial application of this espresso extraction was domesticated
into a home unit called "Europiccola" manufactured by
La Pavoni S.P.A. Today, both the La Pavoni Europiccola and Professional
Lever models are representative of this type of non-spring operated
manual espresso machine.
The spring-operated lever type manual espresso machines work the
opposite way. The operator/barista, starting with the lever in the
up position, presses the lever downwards against the resistance
of the spring in the piston to allow water into the grouphead. Once
enough espresso coffee has lined the bottom of the cup, the operator/barista
allows the spring to push up the lever, making sure consistency
is maintained. Today, the spring-operated lever type espresso machines
Are represented in most commercial lever-type espresso machines
and the Elektra home model espresso machines.
Overall, manual lever espresso machines are best suited for people
(coffee bar baristas, espresso enthusiasts, and home machine hobbyists)
that truly enjoy pursuing the mastering of techniques to extract
espresso with maximum control over all aspects of espresso extraction
(except temperature). The reason is that ease of use is considered
very challenging, but attainable through a longer learning curve
compared with electric pump machines listed below.
The challenges include finding the perfect grind to extract your
espresso with crema and pressing or releasing the lever with consistency.
An excellent burr grinder is essential for these manual machines
as a coarse or inconsistent grind from an inexpensive grinder will
result in a poor shot of espresso. The Spring-Operated Manual Machines
are slightly easier than the Non-Spring since the spring will provide
greater consistency of upward push in the lever.
The reward for utilizing a manual espresso machine is the resultant
flavor extraction that is second to none. In other words, owners
of these manual lever machines are usually disappointed with the
flavor profiles produced by other machines.
Most home model lever machines have a boiler that also doubles
as the reservoir. Since there is no separate reservoir, manual lever
machines need to be powered down and the steam pressure relieved
before refilling the boiler. Therefore, lever machines are not suitable
for entertaining at family gatherings or other events. The La Pavoni
Europiccola can produce 2-4 milk-based beverages before having to
refill the boiler. The La Pavoni Professional can produce about
5-6 milk-based beverages, while the Elektra Lever espresso machines
can produce up to 10. There are no limitations on commercial lever
espresso machines due to the fact that a required direct water line
will refill the machine's boiler as necessary.
Manual home model lever machines are also not suitable in environments
with children or others who may be injured from the hot brass boilers
that are exposed. Care must also be taken when utilizing the spring
operated lever machines as to not let the lever be accidentally
released, allowing the lever to spring upward and cause injury in
the facial area or eye sockets.
Due to the design of the single boiler on home model lever espresso
machines, steam pressure is readily available for frothing milk.
This is an advantage to the electrip pump home espresso machine
types listed below that have a wait time to get up to steaming temperature.
Cleaning and maintenance usually include cleaning and descaling
once a month, and the plated finishes cleaned with a soft, cotton
and damp cloth. Cleaning agents are not recommended as to not remove
the clear coated finish placed above the plated finish. Finishes
typically include chrome, brass and copper.
With the advent of the eletric pump, the posibility of refilling the
boiler became a possibility. Direct water lines and reservoirs were
quickly introduced whereby the operator had a separate control to
refill the boiler with additional water and without powering down
the machine. This unlimited water supply allowed for an increased
capacity during periods of higher demand.
Shortly after the advent of the manual lever espresso machine, an
electric pump machine was invented by Gaggia. The electric pump
machines gained popularity quite rapidly over the piston type due
to the comparative ease of use. Specifically the electric pump removed
the inconsistent pressure that was being applied on the lever by
the baristas of that era.
A switch was used to engage the pump and to disengage the pump once
the extraction was completed. This machine type whereby the operator
controls the amount of water that flows was called semi-automatic.
Although this new technology became quite popular, the serious espresso
enthusiast remained loyal to the piston type machines and the resultant
tastes that were being produced.
Another advantage of the semi-automatic espresso machine was the
ability to allow more or less water to flow through the cofee grinds.
With the piston styles machines, this was more difficult as only
so much water can be engorged inside the piston at one time. The
ability to pump more or less water into the grinds allowed for a
greater variety of espersso beverages we consume today. Namely the
cafe crema, espresso ristretto, espresso lungo, etc.
On commercial semi-automatic machines, the design allowed immediate
steam availability. This was acomplished by maintaining a single boiler
(with hot water and steam) and a heat exchanger (coiled tubing in
the boiler originating at the pump, ending at the grouphead). As cold
water is pumped through the heat exchanger, it would be heated by
the heat transfer from the hot water and steam already in the boiler.
The first commercial semi-automatic espresso machines had boilers
that required the operator to manually refill them with water. If
they were not refilled, damage would occur to the heating element
in the boiler. Most of todays commercial semi-auto machines have automated
the task of refilling the boiler with the inclustion of a motherboard
inside the machine and a water level sensor placed inside the boiler.
However, on home model semi-auto machines, the smaller size for the
kitchen counter would not allow for the larger boiler that can contain
a heat exchanger. Therefore, home model semi-auto machines were designed
in the 1970's with a single boiler that operated at two temp. ranges-
One for espersso extraction and one for steaming. These ranges were
and are controlled by thermostats. The thermostats are engaged by
a switch that the user controls. Opposite from the piston style machines
whereby steam was readily available, home models have a wait period
when alternating from espresso making to steam mode and back. However,
these wait times can be lessened when alternating between modes with
certain techniques. There also have been advances in technoloy to
reduce wait times- these include advances in boiler design (smaller
boilers known as thermoblocks) and the inclusion of secondary heating
elements placed inside the boiler. The only advance made on commercial
machines, but not home is the automatic water refill. The majority
of home modesl have boilers that need to be refilled manually by the
user through the use of the coffee switch.
Overall, semi-auto machines are best suited for people that wish to
produce a quality cup of espresso, while maintaining much control
over the end result with greater consistency than a manual lever machine.
Cleaning and maintenance include cleaning and descaling on a monthly
basis. Mild detergents can be used on plastic bodied machines, and
a damp, cotton cloth with detergesnts is recommended for metal bodied
Full Automatic Espresso
All the commentary for the semi-auto machines (commercial and home)
are the same for the full auto machines- except for volumetric dosing
which was introduced in the late 1970's. In other words, the full
auto machines will measure the amount of water that passes through
the coffee grinds. Once the preset amount is reached, the machine
will automatically shut off the water.
The pre-set amount of water to be forced through the coffee is usually
programmable by the user on commercial machines. In addition, most
full auto machines allow the operator to utilize the machine as
a semi-auto, whereby the operator can control the amount of water
to be pumped.
In a newly-established commercial environment, the recommendation
is to equip the business with a fully automatic machine to maintain
greater consistencies in the espersso product served. Full auto
home machines are recommended where a greater consistency and greater
ease of use is desired amonst a group of users. Same cleaning schedule
and regimen from the semi-auto machines apply.
Up to this point, ALL of the above machines require the operator
(wether a barista, enthusiast, or home hobbyist) to control the
factors to master an espresso extraction. However in the last 10-15
years, a new class of machines have been introduced whereby many
factors are controlled by the machine.
These machines are known as superautomatics.
These automated machines with single or dual pumps grind whole coffee
beans using a built in grinder with hardened steel conical burrs.
They measure the appropriate amount of coffee grinds, tamp (compact)
the grinds into a puck in the extraction chamber, measure the water,
dispense the espresso and eject the extracted grinds into a dump
container, removable for easy cleaning. Most super autos have some
type of indicator (wether light or digital display) to warn the
user of low water, out of beans, or full dump box. This automation
and features are found in the most basic and least expensive super
Enhanced features dound mostly on higher end superautomatics include
self-cleaning systems and automatic self-frothing devices. Self-cleaning
systems range from removable brew groups to internal rinsing cycles
to automated descaling cycles. The higher end machine also allow
for the use of automatic milk frothers whereby the milk is drawn
from a contaner and automatically desposited into your cup, frothed.
Although superautomatic espresso machines provide
the greatest ease of use with "push-a-button" technology,
many espresso enthusiasts shy away from these machines due to the
loss of control of the fundamentals. Although this is true for the
most basic superauto machines, the mid-range and higher end super
autos allow for greater flexibility with the following varying features:
Grinder Adjustment: An adjustment can be made to the grind
fineness. All other parameters being equal, a finer grind will usually
result in a stronger extraction. A coarser grind will result in
a weaker cup.
Dosage Of Ground Coffee: An adjustment can be made with
respect to the amount of ground coffee that is dosed into the extraction
chamber. All other parameters being equal, the greater amount of
coffee, the stronger the extraction. Less grinds will result in
a weaker cup.
Tamping Pressure: Currently, there are no super autos that
allow varying degrees of tamping pressure.
Dosage Of Water: Super autos perform like full auto machines.
They dose the water. However, on super autos the volume of water
is programmable by a dial or push button.
Bypass Doser: This feature allows the use of pre-ground
coffee to be placed into the brewing chamber. The whole beans in
the bean hopper will not be ground or used. Typically there is a
limitation of one or two scoops that can be deposited. This is a
great feature to have when decaf is desired over caffeinated espresso.
(Especially in the evening).
Pump Pulsation: When the steam mode is engages on a super
auto, the heating elements are engages to bring the boiler to a
higher temperature. The pump also will pulsate, sending water into
the boiler so that it does not run out of water while the present
water is converted into steam. In essence, steaming capacity is
Insta-Steam/Rapid Steam: This allows the user to reach
steaming temp. within 15-20 seconds of pressing the steam button.
When disengaged, there is no time to wait to retract back to coffee
temperature. This is due to the fact that insta-steam/rapid steam
mode have a seperate boiler or thermoblock devoted for steaming.
In large volume espresso bars and commercial establishments, super
auto machines can automatically pull an espresso shot and steam
milk into the same cup without the operator moving the cup. Some
also make different beverages at the touch of a button. Although
these super automatics for high volume espresso serving establisments
are priced over $12,000 each, they are ideal where high turnover
of employees is great (equates to lower consitency and increased
training cost) and require production of beverages is very high.
As you can see, the super auto espresso machines do allow some control
over the espresso extraction. The results are desirable for consistency
and very high ease of use. These super auto machine are highly desierable
when a "significant other" such as a wife, husband, boyfriend,
girlfriend, fiancee, etc. places a high priority in cleanliness-
since these machines contain most of the grind within the unit.
As far as the espresso extraction, lots of crema is produced when
utilizing "Vienna Roasted" or espresso roasted coffee
beans. Very oily beans (usually French Roast) can be undesirable
since it can gum the burr grinder just as it would a stand-alone
grinder. Also, super autos typically produce lots of light colored
crema, so for those who prefer dark speckled crema, another type
of machine would be more preferable.
One of the positive outcomes of the super auto machines is the ease
of producing cafe creama coffee. Very popular in France, this coffee
is produced under the extraction process utilized for espresso except
that a much greater amount of wter is passed through the coffee
grinds. The resulting beverage is a cup of coffee with a nice layer
of crema on top. This is certainly different than drip coffee which
is produced under no pressure.
Now that you have learned about machine types, you can stat reviewing
the different makes and models here:
Home Models or Commercial